On Celebrating Christ’s First Advent

I think that it’s fascinating that the Savior warned us about the leaven of the Pharisees (Parushim), rather than the leaven of the Chaberim.

I’m sure that you’ve thought that too.

Who were the Chaberim, and why bring it up? Well, I wanted to talk to you about being a God-honoring neighbor during this busy time of year. In Christ’s day the word Chaberim was used to denote a godly “neighbor” but with an interesting twist: This term Chaberim was actually the name that the Pharisees used for themselves to depict their spiritual practice, i.e., they were the true assembly of Israel due to their unparalleled obedience to the law. Emil Schurer, in his work “A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ” says it this way:

“This gives us however a deeper insight of the self-estimation of Pharisaism. It so far stands on a level with general Judaism of the post-exilian period, that to it also the population of Palestine is divided into two categories: 1. The congregation of Israel, I.e., the Chaberim, for chiber means simply “neigbbor,” fellow countryman, and 2. the people dwelling in the land. In the eyes of Pharisaism however the former term is restricted to the circle of those, who strinctly observe the law together with the entire paradosis ton presbuteron [tradition of the elders]. Only the circle of the Pharisaic association represents the true Israel, who perfectly observe the law and have therefore a claim to the promises.” [Schurer, History of the Jewish People, pp. 23-24.].

Though the Pharisees used this term Chaberim for themselves, you’ll notice that the Savior never used it to identify them. His term was parushim, that is, the separatists: To refer to the Pharisees as “neighbors” would have been ironic at best, for by their conduct, they proved themselves to be nothing of the sort. Instead, they were separatists; that is, they sought to separate themselves from the world so much, that they almost avoided it altogether. And rather than separating themselves unto God’s word alone (which they believed they did [John 5:39-47]), they had sadly set themselves apart unto the traditions of men – and not only this, but they sought to bring others with them in the process [Matt. 23:15]. This tenstion between the actual attitude of the Pharisees, versus their publicity spin as the “Chaberim” may have had some basis in the parable of the godly Samaritan, where at the end of that parable the Lord asked this question:

Luke 10:36-37: 36 Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers hands 37 And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, Go and do the same.

The parable of the good Samaritan is actually a response to a lawyer’s question in Luke 10:29, where he asked: “and who is my neighbor?” The true neighbor was the one who, in genuine godliness, showed mercy. It is interesting that those men who had a reputation for being religious were ultimately rebuked by the life of one who showed compassion to a man who disdained the Samaritans. Yes, it was a Samaritan, of all people, who proved himself to be a genuine neighbor.

The lessons that we can draw from all this are very crucial for our own souls. There is within Christian faith and duty a constant tension that exists between our need to separate ourselves from worldliness, while at the same time being careful not to forsake our ministry of mercy and compassion in the Gospel of Christ. In all our striving to avoid being of the world we cannot forsake our privileged duties that we have while in the world.

During this time of year, I often find myself feeling frustrated over much of the hoopla that surrounds the celebration of Christ’s birth. Frankly, there is much that we should not be associated with, for a great deal of it is simply an advancement of materialism or mysticism – or both. Because of this, we don’t want to find ourselves in association with those things which mar the glory of our Savior, who came in the flesh in order to die in our stead. But in saying this, I would also encourage you to think carefully about not becoming a separatist after the pattern of the Pharisees, such that we might miss some important opportunities to minister as a godly neighbor to this lost and dying world. This time of year often yields some interesting opportunities for believers to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world that has yet to hear about the real meaning of Christ’s incarnation and death. Here are some ideas that might be helpful for you to extend yourselves to your own community for the sake of the Gopsel of Christ:

  1. Try charoling in your neighborhood & bring some Gospel tracts with you.
  2. Consider having a get together with several neighbors for a dessert/coffee time.
  3. Give thought to having some people over who might be alone this season (singles, widows, divorcees or young couples) – folks who don’t know Christ and don’t have anywhere to go.
  4. Should you endeavor to do any of these things, be sure to bask it all in prayer, asking the Lord to open doors of opportunity for sharing the truth of Christ.

This is a strange time of year – it is a time where many believe (mystically) that the season itself can bring true joy – just like magic. As believers, we know that there is only one true source of all peace and joy, and it is found in Christ, who was born in Bethlehem and died on Calvary for our sin. May the Lord grant us multiple opportunities to be neighbors, not after the pattern of the Pharisees, but after the patter of Christ Himself.

P.S. If you are thinking that by the above picture I am taking a shot at the word “holiday” as it might relate to the “seasonsgreetings-happyholidays-merryChristmas” debate – I’m not, but I will be posting on that one later…

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